Monday, August 28, 2017

How to Recover From a Reading Slump!

It's been a few months since I've posted anything, and a large part of that is because the reading slump is real, y'all. Also, life stuff: I quit my librarian job, moved to L.A., and am starting a new librarian job shortly, so basically time for reading has been cut short. I spent a lot of the summer apartment hunting, packing up all of my worldly belongings (including many, many books), relocating, and job hunting. Luckily the job hunting part has panned out so I can take a break from writing cover letters and resumes and get back to reading and, hopefully, blogging about books. And, since I had such a long summer with barely any books read and Goodreads is yelling at me for being behind my goal, I thought I would share my thoughts on the infamous reading slump and how, hopefully, to recover from said slump.

What is a Reading Slump?

What booknerds dread most, the reading slump, is when you either don't have time to read anything or you aren't motivated to start a new read or you just can't get through a single book to save your life. For those of us who love learning about new worlds, reveling in transportive storytelling, or contemplating the human experience through our love of books, the reading slump is like anti-self care. I always feel a bit off when I haven't read a book that I've enjoyed in awhile, like something is missing. I'm a little grouchy, I feel less motivated overall, and I can feel the stress levels in my body rising. Personally, I like reading because it is my me-time, it is my self-care, and when I don't get to set that time aside for myself, I feel the negative impact throughout my daily life.

Typically, I read about 10-12 books a month. I don't say this to brag about how many books I read, but basically to explain the only way I can make it through my TBR (which is constantly growing), keep up with new releases, and revisit old favorites. I also read lots of different kinds of books that range in length, format, and time investment, so I try to set aside as much reading time possible and make it a priority so I can read the wide variety of books that make me happy. For a bit of perspective in how my summer reading slump has gone, in June I only read 5 books, and in July I only read 3. Books I borrowed from the library and was excited about languished on my shelf. My Book of the Month books, which are awesome new releases that I was super stoked to read, were packed up in boxes. The last book I finished in July was Bitch Planet: Vol. 2 and I just didn't feel motivated to start anything new, despite having a Kindle full of unread books. It was not a good feeling. But in August, after I started getting settled in my new city, I worked my way out of my funk.

Tips for Getting Over It

Tip #1: Read an audiobook

I fully embrace audiobooks as being the same as traditionally reading a book, and honestly think it's a bit ableist to say that it is somehow lesser to listen to a narrator rather than read the print or e-book yourself. You are still investing your time and interest in the story, and that is the most important part of reading in my opinion. An audiobook really helped me get out of my reading slump because as I was unpacking and cleaning my new apartment, I could still read and get done what I needed to get done. The book I chose was The Eyre Affair, because I had listened to an audiobook by the narrator before and really liked her narration style, and I knew it was kind of a light, fun book that would be perfect to read while doing chores. And I finished it! It was one of the first books I finished in August.

Tip #2: Pick up genre fiction

Some readers only read genre fiction and some readers read none but if you are in a reading slump, I highly recommend picking up a fast-paced mystery or romance to get your reading gears turning as opposed to, say, slogging through a 19th century classic to get yourself back into reading. In August, I read Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole (love her writing and, hello, apocalyptic romance) and A Crafty Killing by Lorraine Bartlett (it's got crafts, it's got murder, it's got it all), and both books really helped me get back into my reading groove. Usually romances and mysteries read quickly because you want to find out what happened next, so they are good motivators for taking time to read and finishing a book. I stuck to two books that were a bit shorter in length, as well, because when I finish a book it motivates me to read another.

Tip #3: Read a book that you've seen the movie version of already

Sometimes I get distracted starting a new book if I can't visualize the setting or the characters, and I start checking out. However, if I read a book that I've seen the movie version of, I have a starting place and I can start to focus more on the story and the character development. I already know what is going to happen, but I can immerse myself in the detail that the book can provide that the movie just can't. In my case, I read The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan, having already seen the Sofia Coppola-directed film version and really enjoying it. Being able to read the book and think about the differences between the book and the film, and reading not to find out what happens next but to really get to know the characters, was a good start for helping me get over my reading slump.

Tip #4: Find your niche and go with it

Every reader has their special book catnip; find the book that ticks all your boxes and dive in! Personally, I love academia, history, and the occult, so I picked up the book The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark on a whim and ended up devouring it, and its' sequel. The book includes all of the things I love; the main character is a professor, there's witches, there's faeries, there's a hot incubus and steamy love scenes, and it takes place in a remote, small town on the East Coast. These things helped immerse me in a world that is so unlike my own that it really sucked me in and made me stick with the book from start to end. So whatever you are into, whether it's historical fiction set with strong female leads or books with werewolf detectives or stories about generational families dealing with their pasts, find that book and take an afternoon to dedicate your time to it. If you're not sure how to find that book, go to your local library and ask a librarian to help you, or check out the different Listopia collections on Goodreads, or even turn to Twitter and ask your fellow readers if they have a recommendation. There is a book for everyone, and if you find one that can appeal to your interests, you'll be more likely to dedicate the time you need to read it.

Tip #5: Don't let the Goodreads Reading Challenge bring you down

I admit that seeing that I am 9 books behind my challenge stresses me out a little bit. Nonetheless, I don't take that little meter too seriously. Reading is more than just completing a challenge; it's about finding books that speak to you and connecting with the story or the information contained within them. So if you are in a reading slump, don't worry about your reading challenge or whatever other challenges you started at the beginning of the year. Just bring it back to basics and start off slow; read because you enjoy it, not because it is something that you "have to" do.

Now go forth, and read!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

May Reading Re-Cap

For some reason, May is always the month when my reading kicks into high gear. It also helps to start reading a series that has tons of books in it so that I can just keep reading and requesting the next book in the series from the library. Basically, in May I read a good amount of books but none of them were particularly heavy or intense like some of the books I read last month, and they were a good palate cleanser as I plan to dive into some more serious works in June. Below, a wrap-up of my reading in May!

Historical Mystery 
So I kind of lost my mind reading the Lady Emily mysteries in May. I had added the first book, And Only to Deceive to my TBR list long ago and randomly decided to read it after reading the second Veronica Speedwell book last month. I actually had planned to read the Lady Julia Grey mysteries by Deanna Raybourne but the hold list was longer so I ended up with this book instead. And I was instantly hooked! In book one, Lady Emily Ashton is an intelligent, curious woman in Victorian England who recently lost her husband while he was on a hunting trip with his friends, and is now navigating life as a widow in London. Emily barely knew her husband before they married, and he died so soon after they wed that she didn't feel much remorse for him, until she begins reading his journals and learning more about his inner life. She becomes immersed in Classical studies, her husband's former passion, and begins to enjoy the independence she has a wealthy, titled widow. She eventually falls into solving mysteries, and the subsequent books in the series take Emily from England and France to Turkey and Greece, and they are overall excellent escapist novels filled with rich atmosphere, unique characters, and engaging mysteries. They have mixed reviews on Goodreads but I can't help but love them. I really enjoy Tasha Alexander's writing style and feel very protective of Lady Emily. Book 6 is on my Kindle currently, waiting to be read.

Historical Romance 
In May, I wanted to get caught up with my Historical Romance Challenge, and read a good range of romances, including a pirate romance which was one of the categories to fill! That book, Scandalous Desires, sadly did not work for me and it was actually the lowest rating I've given to a book this year! I feel kind of bad because I know that everyone loves the Maiden Lane series, but I just could not get into it and I think pirates are just not for me. Lady in Disguise was also kind of a meh book for me, although the initial premise is intriguing: an upperclass woman whose family has fallen on hard times after her parents' death turns to disguising herself as a highwayman and robbing her rich neighbors to support her sisters, then accidentally robs her teenage sweetheart who has just returned to the village and happens to be super rich and handsome. Unfortunately the characters just didn't draw me in. I did enjoy A Talent for Trickery, however, which featured an ex-thief heroine helping a private investigator hero solve a series of coded letters that may be connected to her deceased father, who was an infamous thief as well as police informant. Cold-Hearted Rake was also pretty good, as Lisa Kleypas' writing is always beautiful and her stories well-crafted. I wasn't super in love with the heroine in the book, though, and didn't enjoy it quite as much as the books I've read by her in the past.

Contemporary Romance
I read Songs of Our Breakup and Haven as part of the Contemporary Romance Challenge, and enjoyed both of them! I now need to pick up some of Rebekah Weatherspoon's backlist because I loved her writing style and her characters, and will probably read the other books in Jay E. Tria's Playlist series as well. Overall, I enjoyed the contemporary romances I read in May quite a bit more than the historical ones.

Graphic Novel 
I finally read the first volume of the trade edition of Bitch Planet and I really liked it. I loved the art and overall style; I've seen the artist Valentine De Landro speak at last year's Book Riot Live, and he was awesome, so I knew I had to pick this series up eventually. I don't read a lot of graphic novels, although I loved them when I was a teen. I thought the characters were really cool and I would love to see this as a television series, as long as producers don't ruin it, which is often the case in TV adaptations. I just thought this title was super relevant to the times and if you haven't picked it up but like feminist works with retro throwbacks, this is a must-read.

Summer Reading
Now that June has begun and it is officially Summer Reading season, I'm planning to switch up my reading life a bit and add in more literary fiction and contemporary fiction. I definitely go through reading phases and, with all of the genre fiction I read this past month, need to mix it up a bit as summer begins. Basically May was kind of a junk food array of books and I want to focus more on books that may not read as quickly but that have a lot of impact. At the same time, I'm (as usual) super behind on my reading challenges and still have some TBR catch-up to do. In summer, however, I like to let my mood guide my reading and not take things too seriously. What are you planning to read this summer? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford

Title: The Darkness Knows
Author: Cheryl Honigford
Genre: Mystery
Release Date: August 2016
Rating: 4/5 stars
Although I’m not a big mystery reader, I am a big fan of 1930’s film noir and detective stories, so when I learned about The Darkness Knows, which centers on a radio star in 1938 Chicago solving a mystery, I knew I had to pick it up. If you’re a fan of old-school detective stories but yearn for a female lead, this book does not disappoint. Vivian Witchell, a rising star at a Chicago radio station, is trying to make it in the industry and find independence from her life of wealth and privilege. Meanwhile, a murder, a mysterious fan note, and a handsome P.I. interrupt her career path and turn her into a makeshift sleuth. Vivian works with Charlie Haverman, the P.I. consultant on her detective serial radio show, to solve the murder of a well-known but not well-liked colleague at the radio station. In an industry where would-be stars will do anything to get ahead, there seem to be enemies everywhere, but Vivian is smart, capable, and observant, making her an excellent amateur sleuth. I also appreciated that Vivian wasn’t a prude or judgemental about sex, which I always enjoy in a leading character.  

Besides Vivian’s plucky attitude and strong personality, I also enjoyed Charlie’s character. He’s tough, but is willing to listen to Vivian’s feedback and ideas. He also appreciates that she’s a modern woman and not looking to dumb herself down to appeal to a man, and he has the tough guy appeal without coming off as an alphahole. I found him to be an appealing lead, and was rooting for him and Vivian to get together in the end. This book, the first in a series, is subtitled a Viv and Charlie Mystery, so hopefully I can look forward to future sleuthing with this likeable pair.

In addition to the well-written leads, the side characters were also a lot of fun to read about. There were some of the stereotypical noir-ish characters, but I enjoy that; the femme fatale, the dashing but fame-obsessed male lead, and everyone has a mysterious past. I did think that Viv’s best friend, Imogene, could have gotten a little more screen time and been fleshed out more. She seemed like an important part of Viv’s life, but we barely got to know her. This book does take place over a relatively short period of time, however, so that may be why.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere of 1930’s Chicago really came through in the storytelling. The author clearly did her research, and you could easily visualize the places that the characters visited. If you are a fan of The Thin Man series or any late 1930’s films, you could easily picture the clothing and the glitzy nightclubs, plus the seedy Chicago backstreets as well. Chicago played a big role in the appeal of the story, and the reader is rooted in that era throughout the story. Overall, this lends a light, escapist tone to The Darkness Knows, and I could easily see this being developed into a television show a la Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.

As far as the mystery aspect goes, I admit that I haven’t read a lot of mysteries (unless you count Nancy Drew books as a child), so maybe I’m a little easier to please than die-hard mystery fans. There were some good twists to the mystery, and good pacing to keep the excitement level up, but I did think that the mystery would have been much simpler to solve if a few characters (not naming names) had spoken up and connected the dots a bit earlier. Plus, Vivian seemed to be telling everyone anything and maybe shouldn’t have revealed all of her cards to so many people. It seems like more could have been done to complicate the mystery while still making it believable and readable. Still, any flaws with the mystery aspect didn’t take away from how much fun I had reading this story. If you need a book that is escapist and engrossing, I definitely recommend The Darkness Knows, and look forward to reading the second installment at the end of the year!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Why I Love Reading Backlist

Although the online bookish community is often focused on new releases or the latest volume of a series, I find that most of my favorite reads lately have been backlist titles. Backlist, as opposed to the frontlist, or new releases, are less recent titles and sometimes get a little left out when booknerds are discussing their TBR lists or reading wrap ups. They're not quite as shiny and new, and they've already been read and reviewed so often they get overlooked. I think this is a mistake; I love going back to the start of an established series and seeing where the characters came from, or picking up an early book by an author who only releases a novel once every five years or so. Below, a few of my reasons for reading backlist as well as some of my recent favorites that I'm newly discovering, even if they are only new to me.

Let's Go Backlist

1. They're easier to get a hold of

With many backlist books, they hype has died down and it is much easier to find a copy on the shelf of my local library, or in paperback on the shelves a bookshop. I don't have to worry about lengthy hold lists, or copies selling out due to some crazy demand after it blows up on the internet or something.

2. Paperbacks > Hardcover

Although hardcover books can be quite beautiful, and I admit that sometimes I will be a hardcover book partially for looks, I would much rather hold and read a paperback copy. They're easy to toss in my bag, they're lighter so I can carry a few at a time, and I don't have to worry about the dust jacket slipping around or getting bent. I love paperback books and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

3. You get to see how an author (and sometimes their characters) have evolved

I love reading an author's latest release, but there is also something to starting at the beginning and watching how their writing changes over the course of a few books or, if it is a series, how a cast of characters evolves over a long story arc. Plus, sometimes authors don't release books every year and they don't have a latest book to read, so picking up backlist titles is the only way to stick with that author's voice consistently.

4. I'm a rebel

When it comes to doing what everyone else is doing, I'm a bit of a brat and a rebel. If there is a new release of a series that everyone online is talking about, I'll usually pass on it until the fuss has died down. If everyone says they love a book, I may pick it up later and read it with the most enthusiastically critical and bitter eye known to man. To put it simply, I like to read what works for me, not necessarily what is being hyped and gushed about by other readers. I think it's because I'm an Aquarius.

5. More books to read

Reading backlist means you're expanding your TBR potential exponentially! If a series that came out like 10 years ago has that many books in it, then what an awesome time to start from book one. You have your next read lined up without having to even think about it! Not like my TBR list is wanting, but I love being able to discover an older series and find out that I'm in love with it and have a whole line of books to look forward to. Plus, if the series is complete, I won't be left waiting for a resolution at the end while the author is still writing it. It's a win-win, really.

Backlist Recommendations: Series

Lady Emily Mysteries by Tasha Alexander
First book originally published: 2009
Genre: Historical mystery

The Others series by Anne Bishop
First book originally published: 2013
Genre: Urban fantasy
All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
First book originally published: 2011
Genre: Paranormal/Romance
Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas
First book originally published: 2004
Genre: Historical romance

Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
First book originally published: 2010
Genre: High fantasy

Craft Sequence series by Max Gladstone
First book originally published: 2012
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Hopefully those are a few backlist titles starting off some complete (and a few ongoing) series to add to your TBR. I love finding a well-established series to dive in to and binge read (as you'll see by my next reading wrap-up). I may pick a few standalone backlist titles to recommend in future posts. Until then, happy reading!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Songs of Our Breakup by Jay E. Tria

Title: Songs of Our Breakup
Author: Jay E. Tria
Genre: Contemporary Romance/New Adult
Release Date: August 2015
Rating: 4/5 Stars

The first book in the Playlist series, Jay E. Tria's Songs of Our Breakup follows Jill, a musician and songwriter, as she recovers from her breakup with bandmate Kim, and begins to navigate her feelings for an old friend, Shinta. I went into this book expecting a cute, light contemporary romance read and was pleasantly surprised that the story is a lot deeper than that, addressing how we grow apart from people that we love as we age, the rough emotional period in your early twenties when you're torn between what you want for the future and reluctance to grow up, and depicts a healthy breakup before jumping in to a new relationship.

Taking place in Manila, Jill and her band, Trainman, are making it on the indie music circuit, playing festivals and releasing EPs of original material. Jill is the only girl in the band, and had previously dated the band's leader, Kim, for seven years. When we meet Jill, she and Kim have only been broken up for a few months and, according to her best friend and bandmate, Miki, she is living in the three month recovery period after a breakup. Jill thinks he means that's how long it should take to get back together, but in truth it is the time she needs to decide to move on. The story flashes back to period of Jill and Kim's relationship, both the good and the bad, and to the present, as she tries to figure out how to stay in a band with an ex, and also recognizes that she may have feelings for Shinta, a friend of their group who is a successful, handsome actor in Japan.

Literally me while reading this book
What this book does really well is realistically depict a long term relationship and what it takes to recover from that kind of breakup. The vignettes of Jill and Kim's relationship are nostalgic and relatable, and it makes it easy to see why Jill would have trouble moving on even if she has a handsome friend who has long had a crush on her. I also enjoyed that Jill and Shinta have a backstory and have always gotten along, instead of a meet-cute or a enemies-to-lovers situation that can be so common in these types of stories. The factor keeping them apart is that neither Jill nor Shinta want to rush into a relationship before they are ready, and instead acknowledge the work they need to do before they could be ready to be together. I also loved that Jill is a songwriter, and the lyrics to he band's songs are featured throughout the book. This is the kind of story that is perfect for a beach read, or to read during a road trip. Jay E. Tria's writing is heartfelt but funny, nostalgic but sarcastic, and is so much fun to read. You really feel like you are hanging out with this group of friends when you're reading. The only aspect it lacks, in my opinion, is I wish Jill had female friends as I feel that is an important part of breakup recovery, although Jill is still growing so maybe that'll be part of her future!

Please give me all the books with hot Asian leads
Book 2 in the series focuses on another band member, and book 3 returns to Shinta and Jill's relationship. I'm a little nervous to read it because I only want the best for them! At the same time, I enjoy Tria's writing so much that I feel I need to read all of her other books ASAP. Basically, if you like romances that go beyond a present-day pairing and instead allow you to get to know the lead's past and watch them grow, or if you like musician-themed romances, or if you have yet to pick up a book by one of the many amazing Filipina romance authors, definitely check out this series! I'll be compiling a list of my favorite contemporary romances from the Philippines that are perfect summer reads and you best believe this series will be on it.

Until then, happy reading!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Title: Haven
Author: Rebekah Weatherspoon
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Erotica
Release Date: April 2017
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

This book, y'all. This. Book. Okay, to start, for some reason this is my first Rebekah Weatherspoon, and after reading it I realize I need to get caught up and read her backlist. I read it really quickly, I was super invested, and I'm really hoping for another book in this series which, awesomely, is named Beards & Bondage. Let me back up and give a quick summary of what Haven is about before I fangirl too much. At the same time, I don't want to give too much away because the first few chapters really draw the reader in and if you know too much going in, it might spoil that feeling for you. So basically, there is a hot, bearded, introverted nature photographer named Shep who lives in a cabin in the woods in Northern California. Shep is into BDSM, and hasn't been able to find a partner in his tiny town who shares his interests, so he has to travel to a BDSM club for an annual sex vacation. Then, we have Claudia, who is a successful New Yorker by way of the Caribbean working in the fashion industry. They meet during a traumatic event and, both finding it difficult to recover, turn to each other for comfort.

Accurate depiction of how you'll feel reading this book
Now, what I liked about the book: first of all, Shep. He is one of my favorite heroes I've read in a long time. I like that he is introverted and thoughtful, but still really strong. He's just an overall good person, and exactly the kind of partner you would want if you had something major happen in your life that you were trying to navigate. I also really liked Claudia; she's funny and she has a backbone without being the tropey version of an independent woman. Their relationship feels very real, as a lot of their day that isn't filled with steamy sex is just like them watching Netflix and stuff.

Side note: this book is really funny. One of my favorite scenes is when a box of sex toys and floggers and stuff arrives in the mail and Claudia is like, "Should we do a haul video?" and Shep just says, "What?"; I died. Other stuff I liked about the book: um. This book is like off the charts in the steaminess department. Definitely not a book I would recommend reading at work or on a train or something.

But, unlike some erotica books I've read, the writing is really solid and the plot and the characters are so well done that it isn't just like smuttiness surrounded by a few pages of story. It's actually a really lovely story about recovery and finding the right person after you've already done some work on yourself, and the timeline for their relationship is appropriate so you don't have to read about people saying I love you within the first few chapters. Instead, I felt really invested in the characters and really enjoyed watching them grow and evolve throughout the book.

It's just so good, you guys. So if you are looking for a steamy contemporary romance that is funny and well-written and a little kinkier than your average read, definitely read Haven. It will have you daydreaming of meeting a sensitive mountain man of your own, for sure. Now, excuse me while I go find all of Rebekah Weatherspoon's other books and read them all.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Reading Challenge Check-In

Since we just passed the first quarter of 2017, it seems like a good time for a reading challenge check-in! 2017 has been an odd year so far, both reading-wise and just all around-everything-is falling-apart-wise. But anyway. Back to reading. I'm trying to read even more widely this year than last year, read more, and read authors I've never read before. I'm taking part in a few challenges, some of which have fallen a bit by the wayside, but I'm still feeling good because I've been reading what makes me happy and that's always the best approach to deciding what to read next, in my opinion. Now, on to my reading challenges!